University of Virginia Library


The subject which has been announced for the three lectures which I shall have the honour to deliver before you is “The relationship of English printed books to Authors' manuscripts during the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries,” and, frankly, the title is not a good one, but in spite of all my efforts I have failed to find a better. It is too ponderous, it suggests a weight of dullness which I trust is not inherent in the subject itself, though, indeed, I cannot claim that it is of the lightest; and it does not really explain what the point of the lectures is meant to be. It is therefore necessary that I should begin by giving you some idea of what I propose to talk about, and, if possible, convincing you that the subject is worth your attention. It is perhaps one which most directly concerns those who undertake to edit for modern readers the work of our earlier writers, but its importance is in reality hardly less for those who have to use the result of their labours; for without an understanding of what a modern edition attempts to be, and can be, it is hardly possible to use it aright.

I need not remind you that in the historical study of our literature, just as in any other historical study, the attitude of students has changed very greatly during the past century. We are not now content to see the material relics of earlier times restored and repaired in accordance with the fashion of our own day, and we are not content to read the works of our earlier writers re-arranged, respelt, repunctuated and generally tidied up. We may for our own pleasure read Shakespeare in modern spelling and set out with all the apparatus of scene- division and stage-directions which the editors of the eighteenth century thought necessary to accommodate him to the taste of their own days, but no sooner do we begin to study his work, or that of his contemporaries, historically, than we feel the need to get back to that work in the form in which it actually came from the pen of its authors. From the modern-spelling, rearranged text, we have gone back to the old-spelling text, and from that to the so-called facsimile reprint, and from that again to the photographic facsimile, in our attempt to put ourselves in the position of contemporaries of the authors and to see, and, so far as we can, understand their work as they saw and understood it. And, so far as what I may call the external view of literature is concerned, this suffices. It is becoming possible even for those who have not access to great libraries to read the work of many sixteenth and seventeenth century writers in what is practically the form in which it was read by their contemporaries. But we may want to do


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more than this. We may want to study the works of these writers in relation to the authors themselves. We recognise that in many respects the printed texts do not reproduce what the authors actually wrote; in some cases because they have been intentionally altered by revisers or editors, in all cases to some extent because errors have been introduced since the manuscripts left their authors' hands. When we are dealing with the works of earlier periods—before the introduction of printing—we have always to recognize the possibility of their having been transcribed by persons who spoke a different dialect from that of their authors or whose language belonged to a later period, and who consciously or unconsciously transformed or modified them in the process of transcription. A text that has been printed is—apart from actual errors—subject to very much the same kind of alteration, though for a variety of reasons it may be much more difficult to ascertain to what extent it has been altered and in what direction the alteration has taken place.

It is this question which I wish to discuss, for these lectures will be mainly an attempt to discuss the problems involved, to suggest what has been done and what remains to do, rather than to solve them—the question how closely we are entitled to assume that the printed texts of the later part of the sixteenth and earlier part of the seventeenth centuries, of that hundred years which including as it does the life-time of Shakespeare may vaguely be called the Shakespearian period, correspond to what the authors wrote.

Much work has of course been directed in recent years to problems of this kind, especially as regards the text of Shakespeare. In particular, much has been done in the admirable edition of his plays now in course of publication at the press of this University; but the problems dealt with have been mainly of the larger sort, questions of revision either by Shakespeare himself or by others, particularly stage-managers and the like and the early editors or printers, including such matters as the responsibility of Shakespeare for division of his plays into scenes or acts; while what I more especially wish to bring to your notice is the minuter, but in a way more fundamental, question of the text itself, not especially of Shakespeare, but in the printed books of his time in general. How close a reproduction of what the author actually wrote in his original manuscript should we expect the printed books of the time to give us? What, according to the current practice of the day, did the printers attempt to do, and what did they succeed in doing?

Now it is quite obvious that such questions would not admit of easy or simple answers even if we were to ask them in respect of work of our own day. The same issue of a newspaper may contain a statement of policy by an important political leader and an account of a serious fire


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contributed by some occasional correspondent who happened to witness it. It is quite likely that the politician's speech as printed will be a very accurate reproduction of the copy supplied, even to the minutest details of punctuation, whereas the account of the fire may have been so rewritten and improved in the newspaper office that the original writer would be hard put to it to recognize it as his own composition at all. Or again, an eminent member of the University, known to have strong views as to punctuation and matters of style in printing, may have a work printed at the University Press. It is not to be doubted that the result will be in a hundred matters of detail—even apart from the mere correctness of the pording—far closer to the author's manuscript than would, say, a pamphlet by an author of no particular importance printed by the average printer of a country town.

To-day, however, the divergence between M.S. and printed text—apart from anything due to intentional revision by an editor or proof-reader—is limited as a rule to punctuation and certain details of spelling in words which may be spelt in more than one way—such as `advertize,' spelt either with -se or -ze, in which the compositor will ordinarily follow the custom of his particular printing-house—and consequently are seldom of importance except when, as sometimes happens, the printer's punctuation obscures the author's meaning. In earlier times, however, printers seem often to have taken much more upon themselves, especially when the author was not actually supervising the work himself, and the possibilities of departure from the manuscript were far greater. We have to consider of what kind and how great these were.

There is evidently a very wide range of possibilities. On the one hand a printed text might follow the M.S. in all details of arrangement, spelling, use of capitals and punctuation, with the minute accuracy which we find nowadays, say, in a print of an M.S. for the purposes of palaeographic study; on the other the printed text may represent an elaborately edited version, perhaps broken up into chapters and sections, re-paragraphed, perhaps with side-notes added and with certain words or passages italicized or printed in larger or smaller type to give them greater or less prominence,—and throughout respelt and repunctuated. Between these extremes there are many possible degrees of exactitude without the text having in any case been subjected to deliberate falsification.

But it may well be asked, why does it matter to us to know exactly how closely a printed book corresponds to the author's M.S. in things which do not affect his meaning? Would not a text which gives us the words which he used, in the spelling and with the punctuation of our own day, such a text as we might suppose to be taken down by a well-


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trained shorthand writer from the lips of a medium inspired by Shakespeare's ghost, or, we might say, such a statement as would be compiled by a police sergeant from the utterances of a foreigner speaking broken English—would not such a text—a normalized and modernized text—give us who are of the twentieth century the best and most easily assimilated form of what the sixteenth century writers had to say? And if that is so, what do these questions of exact form matter?

Well, for what may be called the purely literary or aesthetic reader perhaps they do not matter much. It is arguable that if we are considering a piece of great literature simply by and for itself, we may obtain as true—or at least for ourselves as forcible—an impression of it from a modernized text as we should from an exact copy of its author's manuscript—perhaps even a truer and more forcible impression because our attention is in no way distracted from the thought itself by extraneous and non-essential difficulties due to unfamiliarity in the method of presentation. It is at least arguable: I do not say it is the truth. But even if it is the truth, it does not alter the fact that this modernized text has had to be constructed, and, as we live in the present day, it must, to satisfy us, have been constructed according to modern critical methods. And these modern critical methods demand the use of every scrap of knowledge that we can obtain as to the transmission of the text from the author's own M.S. downwards, in order that we may be as near certainty as possible that the text which we offer does actually represent what the author intended.

Let us just glance for a moment at the history of editorial methods in dealing with the English classics, or for the sake of simplicity, with the text of Shakespeare. It is of course well known to you all that the methods of his earlier editors differed very widely from those of the present day. Such men as Rowe and Pope had as their object rather the production of what they regarded as a good text than one in any sense accurate. They did their best to produce the text which they themselves thought Shakespeare meant to write, or—we might almost say—which in their view he ought to have written. Rowe, besides with great care attending to the scene-divisions and locations, stage directions and other furnishings of the text regarded as necessary in his day—and so successfully that his work in this direction has almost come to be regarded as Shakespeare's own—introduced a number of slight trimmings in the text and corrected many obvious errors. Thus in the first act of Coriolanus the Cambridge editors accept some 15 emendations from Rowe, mostly in punctuation and in minor matters of form such as `Who's' for `Whose', `stands' for `stand'st' (it is at least doubtful if they are right here), `o” for `a' (=of), `they've' for `th'have', and so on. Rowe, and even more


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Pope, did not indeed so much emend as regularize and modernize, though Rowe attended more particularly to minor details of grammar, while Pope tinkered the verse. This, however, is not the point. What we have to notice at present is that in the alterations made by them they paid little regard to authority; Rowe had, one may guess, a somewhat better sense of Elizabethan English than Pope had, and in many cases his corrections are more likely, but neither seems to have bothered himself much whether a reading was or was not to be found in a quarto or folio, and not at all as to the probable authority of the particular quarto or folio if it happened to be found in one.

With the next group, including Theobald, Stevens and Malone, we find a real intention of getting back to what Shakespeare actually wrote, and a very considerable knowledge, derived from the study of the work of his contemporaries, of what he is likely to have written; and at the same time a desire to show wherever possible an authority in some early text for their readings; but as yet there is little serious attempt to determine the respective values of the early texts, nor indeed any clear conception that such determination was possible.

This attempt to settle the respective authority of the texts—in those cases where there exists more than a single early one—was the next step, taken by such men as Dyce, the Cambridge Editors and Furnivall. Among the editors of this period there was much discussion of the merits of the quarto texts versus the folio—as if the editorial history of all the quartos was one and the same, and as if the various plays printed in the folio had all gone through identical vicissitudes and their texts were of equal authority. There is of course no reason for any such supposition. In fact, so far as the quartos are concerned we now recognize—thanks to Mr. A. W. Pollard—a very distinct division into good quartos and bad ones, though even so this does not mean that all the good quartos are equally authoritative, or all the bad ones equally to be rejected, and thanks to Professor Dover Wilson and others, we are able to classify the folio plays on the basis of their relationship to the copy used in the theatre and at the same time to detect—or shall I say to suspect—the revisions to which some of them have been subjected by their authors or other persons.

The next phase—the one in which we are at present—is not only to work out very carefully the relations between the extant early texts, in order that we may choose one as representing most nearly what Shakespeare wrote, but to attempt in every case where the reading of this text seems to be faulty, to reconstruct the history of the fault, so that by showing how it occurred, or at least how it may have occurred, we can justify our proposed emendation. The problem of error has been at-


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tacked mainly from two sides. On one the question of handwriting has been studied in order to show how words in the manuscript may have been misread by a copyist or compositor; on the other the processes of printing have been closely investigated in order to ascertain what, if any, mechanical causes might result in errors of text.

It is this attempt to explain and justify the readings which are adopted that is the outstanding feature of modern textual criticism. The present day editor is somewhat in the position of a detective who is called in to investigate a burglary, and who thinks it probable, let us suppose, that the burglar entered by a certain first-floor window; but who, before he can assume this as a step in the history of the crime, must for his own satisfaction and credit construct a plausible theory of how the burglar managed to reach that window. He cannot assume that he flew there! He must at least be able to show that the burglar might have climbed by the help of such and such a tree or trellis, or what not, traversed along such and such a ledge, clinging to such and such hand-holds, and so gained his objective. If he is lucky he may be able to prove by marks left during the transit that it was actually thus that the burglar gained entrance, but whether he can do this or not he will at all events have rendered his theory much more convincing to himself and to others by making clear that the method in which he supposes the crime to have been committed is a possible one; and though he may never catch the burglar, he will at least be looked upon as a competent detective.

Unfortunately the traces left by a heavy material object such as a burglar are, as a rule, far easier to detect than the development of an error in a text, and we must not press our comparison too far. But nevertheless our textual detective may be able to show at what point in the transmission of his text an error is likely to have entered, the stages of its progress and even in some cases the marks left on the neighbouring phrases, in the form of compensatory adjustments, by its passage and development. It will indeed usually be but a theory—a possibility, but it will certainly render the emendation which he proposes far more satisfactory and convincing, both to himself and to his readers, than if he had put it forward as a mere unsupported guess.

Now in order that an editor may be in a position to form a reasonable theory of how what he considers to be an error in the text before him may have arisen, it is evidently necessary that he should have as exact and minute a knowledge as possible of the various stages through which the text is likely to have passed from its first being written down by the hand of its author until its appearance in a printed book, and of all the circumstances by which it may have been affected during these stages. He must know, that is to say, so far as possible, what relation his


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printed text was intended to bear, and is likely to have borne, to his author's M.S. He must consider whether there are any rules which will assist him, or any limitations to which he must conform, in his attempts to justify his proposed readings. He may find that in textual criticism neither rules nor limitations are of universal application or of universal validity; he may indeed find that in the particular case under investigation neither rules nor limitations can be formulated; but until he has investigated the matter, he cannot be said to have done all that modern critical methods require of him.

Now in these lectures I have nothing very new or very remarkable to put before you. Everyone who has given much time to the study of sixteenth and seventeenth century texts must already be familiar with a great part of the ground which I have to cover. All I hope to do is to offer you a little more methodical survey of the whole subject than, so far as I know, exists at present, and one which may perhaps make the problem of emendation, in certain respects, a little clearer. I cannot claim that the investigation which I propose to make will lead to any immediate and positive results of great importance. It will certainly not lead us to the discovery of any new and startling emendations of obscure passages. On the other hand I am not without hope that it will suggest certain new factors which must be taken into account in textual work and certain new lines of investigation which may eventually bring us nearer to the truth. Perhaps also it will suggest that the problem of emendation is very different in different classes of texts; that on the whole sixteenth and seventeenth century printers were not nearly so unreliable as some critics have supposed and that the evidence of the printed book is not lightly to be set aside; and that, in short, emendation is a risky business and that in most cases it is best to let well, or even moderately well, alone. We are all of course far less given to reckless emendation of early texts than critics were a century ago, but I cannot help feeling that we still at times expect from writers of the Shakespearian period a standard of correctness in grammar, of clarity of thought and precision in statement that we certainly do not always find in the writers of our own day. There is, I think, no evidence whatever to justify us in any such expectation, and we must always before assuming that a text is erroneous do our utmost to interpret it as it stands. It may often seem to us that quite a small change would greatly improve the grammar of a passage or give it a new and much more effective point, and we are sorely tempted to emend it accordingly; but there is of course not the slightest ground for so doing. We may often find exactly the same thing in the work of our own day, when we have every reason for believing that the printed text was carefully revised by the author and represents


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what he intended. Anyone who has had to read other people's proofs in the capacity of a sub-editor or printer's reader will recall many instances where he has felt certain that his author had intended to say something else—so obvious did a correction seem—and then on being challenged the author has refused the suggested alteration and maintained the passage as it stood. It must therefore always be our first rule to go as far with the printed text as we possibly can, only assuming it to be wrong when we can find no sense in it by any reasonable interpretation, or—in a play—by any method of enunciation or by the interpolation of any imaginable stage business.

From such general considerations we must now pass to the question of the transmission of a text from the original M.S. of its author to the printed page. It is evident that there may be several stages in this transmission, for we can seldom, if ever, be certain that the compositor who set a work in type had the author's original M.S. before him. He may equally well have worked from a transcript, possibly made by a professional scribe, and perhaps prepared by the latter for press. It is, therefore, necessary that, before we come to the actual process of composition in type, we should consider the nature of the copy which the printer is likely to have had before him—I am using `copy' in the technical sense of the M.S. from which a compositor works—and how closely this copy is likely to correspond with what the author originally wrote.

There are three principal ways in which copy given to a printer may vary—in legibility, in correctness, and in the extent to which it has been prepared for the press. The last might include division into chapters, sections and paragraphs, the marking of passages for special type and such matters, and in the case of plays the careful and consistent insertion of speakers' names and the like, which an author is usually content to give in very much abbreviated forms. It is obvious that the copy which was brought to the printing houses might vary much in these respects according to the carefulness of the author or to other circumstances.

Now as regards legibility, I think we may take it for granted that an author who himself sent his M.S. to be printed would take some care that it could be read. If his own hand was too bad he would no doubt get a fair copy made. He would do as Fulke Greville did when he had a secretary write to his friend, Michael Hickes in 1600, remarking “I write in another mans hande for feare my owne will not be understood;” and it is reasonable to suppose that when the fair copy was made, he would read it over to see that it was correct—though we do at times find excuses made for errors on the ground that they crept in when the work was copied and made ready for the press.


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On the other hand it seems not infrequently to have happened that books were printed from MSS. which had come into the possession of publishers without their authors' knowledge or consent. There undoubtedly existed a trade in M.S. copies of unprinted works. Nashe refers to a pamphlet of his as progressing from one scrivener's shop to another and growing at length so common that it was ready to be hung out for one of their signs, like a pair of indentures. Whereupon he thought it as good to reap the fruits of his own labours, by having the book printed, as for the copyists to make their profit out of it. One can easily understand that a work copied and re-copied in this way might in the course of time become seriously corrupt, but it would be quite a mistake to suppose that such trade copies would either be badly written or contain passages of unintelligible nonsense. The fact that they were the work of professional scribes would ensure that they were clear and legible, and unless they afforded a readable text they would not easily sell. However much the publication might be surreptitious and unauthorized, and however they might misrepresent the author's original, such professional copies would from the printer's point of view be excellent, and we should expect a text set up from them to be quite free from errors due to misreading.

Again we must remember that the majority of books had to be licensed before publication. The licensing regulations varied from time to time, and there is some obscurity as to the details of the working of the system, but it is, I think, fair to say that, with a very small number of exceptions, all books openly printed during the reigns of Elizabeth, James 1st. and Charles 1st. had been read or at least looked at by some person representing the licensing authorities, though we must not forget that it was religious and political works about which these authorities principally concerned themselves, and that it seems likely that, at certain periods, books regarded as safe might be allowed by the Master and Wardens of the Stationers Company without reference to any other authority. Now we can surely assume that no one who wanted to get a book licensed would present it to the licenser, whoever he might be, in an illegible form. If he could not write decently himself, he would get it transcribed. Thus Henry Chettle tells us that he transcribed Robert Greene's Groatsworth of Wit, which had been left by Greene at his death. As he says, `it was ill written, as sometimes Greene's hand was none of the best: licensed it must be, ere it could be printed, which could never be if it might not be read. To be brief, I writ it over, and as near as I could, followed the copy.' Here we have an admirably plain statement of what happened in one particular case. A fair copy was required for the licenser, and though this is not actually stated, it is im-


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plied that this was the copy which was afterwards printed from, for Chettle's purpose is to make clear that he had no share in the work save as copyist, and that though he omitted a few passages, he added not a word of his own. It all seems very reasonable and natural, and I think we may take it as a general rule that a legible copy would be submitted to the licenser and that this legible copy would afterwards be used by the compositor for putting the work into type.

Now, as everyone knows, a compositor in the course of his employment becomes extraordinarily skilled in deciphering handwritings, even when these are very difficult to an ordinary reader. There is, so far as I can see, no reason for supposing an Elizabethan compositor to have been less skilled in reading the MSS of his own day than a modern one, or to have been less skilled than the licenser. I cannot help feeling that because we cannot read an Elizabethan M.S. as easily as one in a present day script, we are sometimes a little inclined to imagine that it would have presented difficulties to an Elizabethan. Of course it would not, and taking into account the necessity of the licenser being able to read it, I think we may fairly assume that as a general rule a MS. sent to a printing house in the sixteenth or seventeenth century would present less rather than more difficulty to the compositor than would the average handwritten MS. sent to a printer at the present day.

Was there an exception to this general rule of the goodness of the copy sent to the printer? I think there was, a most important one, and one which, besides giving infinite trouble to students of English literature ever since, is mainly responsible for the very low opinion which is generally held of the work of the Elizabethan printer. This exception was the text of a certain class of popular plays. I believe that the copy supplied to the printer in the case of such popular plays is likely to have been far less satisfactory from his point of view than the copy supplied for any other class of book, for a very simple reason, namely that he would not, as a general rule, get the licenser's fair copy to work from.

What I suggest was the history of most plays of the popular kind—plays which did not get into print until some time after their original performance on the stage—is this. The author produced a MS. If he was a bad writer, like Robert Greene, or in any case if the MS. showed the ordinary traces of revision and correction during composition, a copy was written out professionally for the licenser to pass. When this was passed by the licenser it would be used by the theatrical producer as what I may call the official copy. It would in fact become the prompt copy, and would be provided with the usual prompter's notes, to which I shall refer later. It would of course be essential that the prompter should have a copy which was both correct and legible, for he could not


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afford to be puzzling over it when an actor had forgotten his lines, and, with the frequent variation in repertory, prompting must have been very necessary on the Elizabethan stage.

Now, if a theatrical company decided to let a play be printed, and there is at least some reason for thinking that a good many plays were actually sold to the publishers by the companies that owned them, it is not to be supposed that as a general rule they would hand over the prompter's copy to the compositor, for this was valuable to them both for use in the theatre and as their authorization for acting the play. On the other hand it does not seem to have been necessary for a play which had been licensed for acting to be separately licensed for printing. Consequently there would be no question of producing a fresh fair copy for the licenser. It seems therefore highly probable that if the company still possessed the author's original MS. they would hand over this, which might easily be full of corrections, not too legible, and altogether bad from the point of view of the compositor. Now if this were done it would at once give us a reason why the texts of the popular drama are often so much below the general level of printing of their time.

Dramatic texts claim so large a share of the attention of students at the present time that I must be permitted to consider them a little more closely, though we must always remember that, important as they are to us to-day, they were regarded by the Elizabethan book-buying and book-selling public as essentially a rather low-class kind of literature, and that the better publishers and printers concerned themselves hardly at all with such work. This, however, is by the way; what concerns us at the moment is the copy which would be supplied to the printer of a dramatic text. Naturally it varied a great deal. Certain plays, especially those intended for the study rather than for the theatre, such as those of Samuel Daniel, would no doubt be printed under the author's supervision from MSS. which he had himself supplied, and there is no reason to expect any different degree of correctness in the printing of such plays from poems or even sermons. In other cases an author took an evident pride in his work, and though the plays were written for the theatre, saw to the publication himself—such as Ben Jonson. But it is not such as these which give trouble to an editor, but the more popular class of play which came into print after, and because of, its success on the boards, and with the publication of which the author seems to have had nothing to do. The importance of this class entirely overshadows that of the others because it happens that the plays of Shakespeare as well as those of most of his predecessors and earlier contemporaries are included in it.

It may have struck you that in suggesting, as I did just now, that the texts of this class of play—or at any rate the inferior texts—owe their


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inferiority to their not having been printed from licensers' copies, which were retained by the theatrical companies as prompt-books, I am entirely at variance with much recent critical work which has been directed to showing that certain plays of Shakespeare were actually printed from these prompt-books. Thus of the first quarto of A Midsummer Night's Dream, 1600, Prof. Dover Wilson says:

“The Fisher Quarto was beyond doubt printed from a theatrical prompt-book. Stage directions, for example, such as `Enter the King of Fairies, at one doore, with his traine; and the Queene, at another, with hers,' transport us at once from the forest of Shakespeare's Attica to the boards of his play-house; while in others like `ly doune,' `sleepe' and `winde horne' we hear the managerial voice giving real `directions' to the players. Further, seeing that the Quarto contains a number of irregularities strongly suggestive of an author's manuscript, it seems not unnatural to suppose that here, as with Much Ado, 1600 and Love's Labour's Lost, 1598 we are once again confronted with a text printed directly from the prompt book just as Shakespeare left it.”

Now without wishing to deny that certain of the early quartos do contain things, such as an occasional mention of an actor's name in a stage direction, as in Much Ado and the second part of Henry IV, which undoubtedly seem to indicate that the MSS from which they were printed had a very close connection with the actual performance at the theatre, I think that we must be careful in assuming that such occasional notes as these prove them to have been the official copy used by the prompter; and still less need we assume that the mere presence of a few stage directions written from the theatrical point of view proves this. Although I hesitate to differ from so sound and careful an editor as Professor Dover Wilson, I cannot but think that he has not given quite sufficient consideration to the essential nature of a prompt-book. Surely, as I have said already, a book used by the prompter to hold in his hand while directing a performance, must have been correct and easily read or it would have been useless. And yet unless we are to assume an altogether abnormal carelessness or stupidity on the part of the compositor of the quarto which he is discussing, the copy from which it was printed cannot have been by any means clear and legible. To take a single example, there is at the end of the first scene a passage which is consistently rhymed. In the course of four lines of this we find two obvious errors in the rhyme-words: `sweld' rhyming with `meet' where `sweet' is evidently needed, and `companions' rhyming with `eyes' where `companies' seems a certain correction. Both these errors Professor Wilson puts down, no doubt rightly, to misreading of the copy. But of what use, in the uncertain lights of a theatre, would have been a prompt-copy in the decipher-


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ing of which a compositor constantly employed in the reading of handwriting could make such blunders.

For my own part, I quite fail to see that the occurrence of occasional stage directions such as Professor Wilson cites, implies a prompt-copy in the sense of a copy to be actually used on the stage. All it does seem to me to imply is a play written for the stage by a man who knew his job, and who continually regarded it as a play to be performed and not one to be read in the study. Shakespeare, as any other competent dramatist does, would see in his mind's eye his characters moving on the stage of his theatre, and would, I think, quite naturally and instinctively add such occasional notes as would serve to make his intention clear to a producer, without intending anything like a full set of directions. I am not sure that he might not even sometimes have accidentally slipped in, for the name of a character, that of the actor by whom he knew—as he well might—that the character was to be played.

And, besides, we do occasionally find plays which seem really to have been printed from prompt copies, or from exact transcripts of them, and here we find quite another sort of stage direction. Thus in the Beaumont and Fletcher folio of 1647, The Spanish Curate seems to have been printed from a prompt-copy. But here we get directions in advance which are quite clearly intended as warnings to the producer. Thus in Act IV, scene 5, at the head of the scene is `Diego ready in bed, wine, cup,' though Diego does not enter until 40 lines later, where the direction reads, rather quaintly, `Enter Diego (in a bed)' with the addition a line later `Bed thrust out,' the actual process evidently being that the curtain of the inner stage was drawn revealing Diego in a bed, and the bed was then pushed forward on to the stage itself. Later in the same play we find such directions as `Chaire and stooles out,' `A Table ready covered with Cloath Napkins Salt Trenchers and Bread,' and `Dishes covered with papers in each ready.' These two last directions have nothing whatever to do with the matter in hand at the moment, and refer to a meal which is to take place in the following scene. Now such directions as these are real prompter's notes. Further, in texts of this kind we always find that entries of characters are given two or three lines before their actual appearance on the stage. At the same time we may observe that such texts printed from undoubted prompters' copies show few, if any, of the kind of errors which indicate an illegible or corrupt manuscript. They belong of course to a later period when plays were no doubt regarded as a more important branch of literature than at the end of the sixteenth century and were printed with more care, but even with all due allowance for this the fact is perhaps not without significance.

The case of the M.S. of Massinger's Believe as you List is perhaps


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rather late to afford much evidence in this connection but it may be mentioned in passing. Here we have a play which was fair copied by the author himself and was evidently prepared for actual stage-use by a theatrical producer and directions added on the MS. itself by a prompter. Among these are such purely prompters' notes as `Gascoigne and Herbert below ready to open the Trap doore for Mr. Taylor' and a little later Antiochus, the character played by Mr. Taylor, is to be `ready: under the stage.' Elsewhere an actor and a boy are to be `ready: for the song at the Arras' and so on, while at the end of the play is added a short list of certain properties required for the different acts; thus a writing out of the book with a small piece of silver for Mr. Swantton (i.e. Swanston) is required for the first act, and so on. This then is clearly a copy to be actually used by the producer or prompter, and it is noteworthy that it is well and very legibly written and a perfectly good text. It seems to me evident that the copy from which A Midsummer Night's Dream was printed was a very different sort of thing from this, not a prompt-copy at all but far more probably Shakespeare's own original draft.

Now what should we expect a sixteenth century playwright's copy of a play as supplied to a theatrical company to be like? Let us remember its purpose. It was not written to be printed. It was not a document intended for the study or for the minute discussion of students three hundred years away in the future. It was not a literary document at all. It was merely the substance—or rather the bare bones—of a performance on the stage, a thing to be interpreted by expert actors used to declaiming blank verse, and, we may presume, understanding thoroughly what was required of them. With actors so well trained by constant change of repertory as the Elizabethan actors were, it is quite likely that in the less important scenes a good deal of extemporization would be allowed and expected—as it certainly was on some of the foreign stages—and it is even possible that for such scenes a mere direction as to what was required to happen might sometimes have been regarded as sufficient. If so, it would perhaps explain the exceeding crudity of some of the comic scenes of the popular drama which may have been hastily written up from such directions at the time of printing. And even in those scenes where the author expected the actors to utter his language word for word as written, the fact that he was writing for skilled exponents would, I think, inevitably lead him to be satisfied with a much lower standard of exactness than if he had been writing for print. When an actor has to speak a passage of blank verse he will, in the first place, so utter it that it scans. He will make such a word as `blessed' either two syllables or one as the verse seems to require. He will make his own punctuation. He will run lines together or split them in the middle as the rhythm of


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the speech demands. He will, in fact, speak his author's words as he thinks they ought to be spoken, rather than exactly as the author has set them down, and in this he will be fulfilling the author's intention. The author, for his part, would be concerned merely with giving him things to speak, and this being so would not attempt an exactitude and finish in his MS. which would at best be useless. So far as accurate division into lines of verse, or punctuation, was necessary at all, this could be attended to in the fair copy which, in my view, would generally have to be made for the censor of plays and to serve as a prompt-copy. The production of such a fair copy from the author's draft was, I take it, the business of a man like Ralph Crane, who was scrivener to the King's Players. He had, no doubt, just the kind of experience necessary to decipher and put into order the playwright's untidy and often much revised draft and if only such fair copies of the plays of Shakespeare and his contemporaries had gone to press, we should all have been spared a vast deal of trouble.

If then, as I have suggested, when the theatrical companies sent their plays to be printed, they did not send them official prompters' copies, but the—to them—far less valuable original manuscripts, should we not expect to get just the sort of muddle which we actually find? The compositor faced with a MS. which was not—as most MSS. to some extent were—prepared for press, and without the experience which would enable an actor, or a theatrical copyist, at once to decide which words were intended to stand in contracted forms and which to be expanded, which passages were prose and which blank verse, how the lines were intended to be divided up, and so on, would no doubt do the best he could, but especially if the copy were hastily written and much revised would in all probability make at times a sorry hash of it.

Of course, such a theory will not explain everything. It will not explain, for example, the apparent omission of essential scenes in Peele's Edward I, though this may be due simply to parts of the copy having been lost or damaged; but, as I shall hope to convince you, the sixteenth century printer had a far higher standard of accuracy than one who had only studied the texts of popular plays might suppose, and it seems necessary to attempt to account in some way for the extraordinary difference in correctness between the printing of such plays and the printing of most other kinds of work. The mere fact that a compositor had a play before him cannot have caused his work suddenly to fall so far below its usual standard. The fault must have been in the copy rather than in the compositor. And if all other work sent to the printer was in the form of fair copies sufficiently good to have been submitted to the licenser, whereas these popular plays came to him not in fair copies but in the author's


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MS. as originally supplied to the theatrical manager, with all the author's corrections and alterations upon them, we do seem to have at least a possible explanation of the difference in the printed results.

After this long digression, let us get back to the ordinary copy which would be supplied to the printer of non-dramatic work. For reasons that I have given, I think this would be as a general rule decently and clearly written whether in the hand of the author or of a copyist. There is no need to suppose that the average author employed a copyist to put his work into order and transcribe it for the press, but it is likely enough that some did this, and as such a fair copy is a possible step between the author's MS. and the printed book, it is necessary to deal with it briefly here. The fair-copying, just as the printing, might of course introduce errors. Thus, Robert Cleaver in his Brief Explanation of... the Proverbs of Solomon, 1615, apologises for faults which were committed “some when the copie was written out and made ready for the presse, and other committed in the printing.” But besides the introduction of errors a copyist might influence the transmission of the text in another very important way, namely, by varying the original spelling.

Perhaps I ought to apologize for the fact that I shall have to talk at some length about spelling. It sounds a dull subject, and I fancy that most people's—indeed most English students'—idea concerning the spelling of the Shakespearian period is simply that it was quite irregular and therefore does not matter. It was irregular, but we are finding out that it matters a great deal, and of late much work has been directed to investigating it. The enquiry has generally been made in connection with printed texts—whether or not, or to what extent, the compositor followed or tended to follow, consciously or unconsciously, the spelling, and incidentally the punctuation of the copy before him. I shall have to refer to this question in connection with the compositor when we come to him, but at the moment we are only considering the work in its manuscript state and our problem is, if one Elizabethan—professional scribe or not—copied another Elizabethan's MS. would he naturally and normally follow his spelling and punctuation, or would he follow his own habits as regards these things?

It is a great mistake to suppose that because sixteenth century spelling was apparently haphazard, and most words can in different books be found spelt in a great variety of ways, that therefore the spelling of any particular sixteenth century writer was necessarily haphazard. The spelling of a man who had occasion to write but seldom, might indeed be haphazard—as it often is to-day—but in anyone who spent a great part of his time in such an occupation it must always have become a matter of more or less fixed habit. We should expect a professional author's spell-


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ing to become as individual a peculiarity as his style, while it is of course far more easily detected and described. We have only to look at any MS. of some length to see that this is the case. The spelling will, no doubt, not approach in regularity that of the present day, especially in the less common words, but we shall as a rule find that in all those which are of frequent occurrence one or other of the alternative spellings will be given the preference throughout. Thus, towards the end of the sixteenth century, there were at least four ways of spelling the word “friend;” namely `frend,' `frind,' `freend,' and as we spell it at present; there was also an occasional form “freind.' We shall, I think, generally find that a writer chooses one of these forms and sticks to it. Other common words of which the same thing may be said are `her', spelt either with `e' or `i,' and `these' which may be either `these' or `theis,' but I shall have to refer to such test-words later and this must suffice for the present. The point is that at a period when spelling was not fixed by general consent it was, in practice, fixed for the individual, and indeed as characteristic as handwriting or literary style. In fact I think we may say that if instead of printed plays we possessed letter for letter transcripts of the original manuscripts of the authors, we should in most cases be able to assign anonymous plays to their authors, or to divide them up among several authors, on the ground of spelling alone. It is therefore evidently of importance to us to know whether or not we are entitled to argue from the spellings which we find either in MS. copies of works not in their authors' hands or in printed texts, anything as to the spelling of the author's original manuscripts, and hence in the case of anonymous works, anything as to the identity of the author or the respective shares of the different contributors to such works.

But there are other ways in which the textual critic may be concerned with spelling, for it is obvious that the possibility of confusion and error either by miswriting or misreading depends to a great extent on spelling. Let us take one or two simple examples. Among the commonest misreadings, in early times as now, is that of `any' for `my' or vice versa. Now in the later 16th. century `any' was very commonly spelt `anie' but `my' was rarely, if ever, spelt `mie'. If therefore an author was in the habit of spelling `anie' the word `my' in a manuscript copy or text printed from his MS. is not at all likely to be a misreading for that word, whereas if he spelt `any' such a misreading might very easily occur. But in the great majority of cases we have no original MS. of our author from which we can learn his practice as regards spelling, and it therefore becomes important to ascertain what, if anything, we are entitled to infer as to this from the copies of his work in other hands, or from the printed text before us. In this particular case would the fact that `anie'


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was commonly spelt with -ie in the derived text which we are considering, imply that this was the author's customary spelling of the word or would it not?

Or again suppose that we find in a text the word `science' where it seems to us that the correct word would be `silence.' Now the spelling of `silence' with `sc' is by no means uncommon in the 16th. century and we might easily suppose that the author wrote it so. If then our transcriber (or printer as the case may be) were in the habit of keeping the spelling which he saw before him, it would be easy to explain the word `science' by supposing that he intended to write (or compose) `scilence' with `sc' and that an `l' was simply omitted by accident. If, however, he were in the habit of normalizing the spelling and of spelling `silence' as we do nowadays, the presence of the word `science' is much less easily accounted for. It must in fact have been an actual misreading and not a very natural one.

This will, I think, suffice to indicate why we are concerned to know how closely a copyist is likely to have followed his original in matters of detail such as spelling. This particular point has so far received little attention, though as I have already mentioned, the very similar question of whether a compositor followed the spelling of his copy has received a good deal. Fortunately, thanks to the work of Mr. F. P. Wilson, we have recently learnt much about one of these professional scribes, namely Ralph Crane, who was born, in all probability, between 1550 and 1560, and who died some time after 1632. Crane was in his early days secretary to the Clerk of the Privy Council and later served in the Signet Office and the Privy Seal, and as he tells us in 1621 he was employed as scrivener to the King's Players. Up to the present five plays and six other manuscripts have been identified as written by Crane and these, if carefully examined, should give us a fairly good idea of the relationship of at least one transcriber to his text.

The plays existing in transcripts by Crane are the following: The Tragedy of Sir John van Olden Barnavelt, believed to be the work of Fletcher and Massinger; Demetrius and Enanthe by Fletcher; The Witch by Middleton, and A Game at Chess by Middleton, the last existing in two different versions.

We have thus four plays, the work of three authors. Whose spelling will the transcripts represent?

Fortunately in Miss Frijlinck's edition of Barnavelt from the Crane MS. we have a very convenient means of studying the spelling of one of these MSS. with a minimum of trouble. This spelling is not unremarkable, and I think it may safely be said that it looks more like the spelling of one who had received his education in the neighbourhood of 1570


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than that of men who were not born until nine or thirteen years after that date as were Fletcher and Massinger. Among spellings that were undoubtedly antiquated or unusual in 1619, the presumed date of the transcript, are `ceize' for `sieze', `falce' for `false', `praire' for `prayer', `speritt' for `spirit', and in perhaps a less degree `ghesse' for `guesse' and `creadit' for `credit', and there are a number of other peculiarities with which I need not trouble you. Now the interesting point is that this spelling is consistent or practically so throughout the play; so far at least as I can see, it is absolutely impossible to differentiate the two authors of the play by any difference in the spelling of their respective portions. Assuming, as I think we safely may, that the spelling of the two authors Massinger and Fletcher was not identical, we must either suppose that Crane transcribed the play not from the original MS. of their separate portions but from a fair copy in which the spelling had been normalized, or alternatively that it was Crane's own. It would be interesting if we could bring the spelling into any relation with either Massinger's of Fletcher's, for obviously one of these might have copied it out incorporating the contributions of the other. Comparison with `Believe as you List' which is accepted as in Massinger's own hand does not show any general similarity in spelling, but we cannot positively say that it is not Fletcher's for we have no autograph of his with which to compare it. On the other hand we have several other plays transcribed by Crane and by a careful examination of these we ought to be able to discover whether he followed his own system of spelling or not. Unfortunately I have not been able to make any thorough investigation of the matter—some of the Crane MSS. are not very easily accessible—but examination of the MS. of the Game at Chess in the British Museum (Lansdowne 690) reveals a considerable number of the peculiar spellings found in Barnavelt, such as the spelling of `sieze' with a `c'—surely a most unusual form, `praire' for `prayer' and `falce' with a `c' for `false.' We find also at least once `safety' spelt `saffetie' as in Barnavelt, while certain less unusual spellings such as `secreat' for `secret', `frend' for `friend' seem to be used consistently throughout both plays. On the other hand there are a few differences. The word `spirit' seems always in Barnavelt to be spelt `sperit'—this occurs at least seven times in the play—whereas in A Game at Chess (about 1624) and in Middleton's Witch (not before 1620) of which there exists a not very accurate eighteenth century print, the word seems to be usually spelt `spirit' as now. Again the spelling of `her' seems in Barnavelt to be always with `i' and in the Game at Chess and the Witch with `e'. It is not easy to account for these variations, and I feel that fuller investigation is required before we can say with complete confidence that Crane entirely


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ignored the spelling of the copy before him and followed his own—but so far as the evidence goes it seems to show that he had at least a very strong tendency to do this. If so, the fact is of some importance for it means that in anything printed from a fair copy made by Crane the spellings will not be those of the author, and if this is true of the work of one professional scribe it may well be true of the work of others.

One final word before we leave the subject of MS. copies. I would suggest for your consideration that in the relation of a transcript to its original, the following general principles are likely to be found valid.—

(1) The more a man writes the more would his spelling tend to become fixed. Therefore a copy made by a professional scribe is likely to be more thoroughly and consistently re-spelt than a copy made by one who was not a professional.

(2) Traces of the author's spelling are always more likely to be found in unfamiliar words, proper names and the like, than in common ones, for the transcriber's notion of how to spell such words is likely to be less fixed.

(3) A transcript made from difficult writing will be more likely to preserve traces of original spellings than a transcript from more easily legible writing, because the more the transcriber's attention is focussed on the actual form of the words which he transcribes the more exactly is he likely to reproduce them.